After a trade down from the 26th pick in Thursday night's first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins further fortified the secondary with a supreme athlete in Noah Igbinoghene. The football star moonlighted in the long-jump and triple-jump events on the Auburn track team.
Auburn Defensive Backs Coach Wesley McGriff knew there was a possibility he wouldn't have Igbinoghene during spring practices. Two-sport athletes are given some leeway with regards to practice time during the overlap between two sports, a leash that Igbinoghene was not at all interested in exercising.
"That kid's attitude is phenomenal," McGriff said. "You have to run him out of the building."
Igbinoghene said on the Drive Time Podcast that he fell in love with the game of football in the seventh grade and never looked back. That genuine passion for the sport caught the attention of coaches throughout the Tigers staff.
"Noah came over and got 15 days of spring practice last year, then he's basically been a starting corner in the SEC from the start," said Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele. "He played very well last year, but it was his first year on defense. A lot of it was all new to him, and he progressed each game."
The head coach at Auburn, Gus Malzahn, could be classified as an offensive coach – he is, after all, the offensive play caller. Still, he recognized Igbinoghene's leadership from the other side of the football.
"He's one of the defensive leaders," Malzahn said. "He has a presence about him. And [he played] with a whole lot more confidence this spring. He plays with an edge and that carries over for a lot of people."
That edge is one of Igbinoghene's most prideful traits. He began his career at Auburn and acknowledged, during his interview on the Drive Time podcast, that his experience dealing with feisty press corners inspired him to become just that, a nuisance for opposing receivers.
"He's so athletic, and it's in his genes," former Auburn teammate Javaris Davis said. "He's just so good. A lot of people can't do what he can do."
Davis is right. The former high school triple jump national champion displayed his rare athleticism at this year's Scouting Combine. He ran a 4.48 40-yard dash and posted a 37-inch vertical jump and 128-inch broad jump, the latter checking in at the 88th percentile.
Those athletic traits don't fall far from the Igbinoghene tree. Both of Noah's parents were Olympians for their native country of Nigeria. This isn't just track speed, it translates to the football field. Igbinoghene only started playing cornerback in 2018 and allowed a completion percentage of just 41.9 percent on balls targeted for his man. He added an interception and broke up 18 passes in his two years at Auburn.
"He'll be in hip-pockets all day, even in the NFL," pens Pro Football Focus' Mike Renner. "He loves to get physical at the line of scrimmage with opposing wideouts and never let them leave arm's length."
The fluidity of Igbinoghene's game is apparent on the tape. He's a smooth operator whether working out of a back pedal, playing in zone turns or matching up man-on-man. He's thickly built to properly play his physical brand of football and shows patience with his technique. Per Pro Football Focus, Igbinoghene played the second-most press coverage reps in 2019 of any cornerback in college football.
Igbinoghene allowed an impressively low 51 percent completion rate last season. On passes deeper than nine yards, receivers caught just 14 out of 37 passes. A sticky man-cover corner, Igbinoghene also embraces the tackling aspect of the position.
"He's got a tremendous skill set, a great defensive temperament and he's very knowledgeable," Steele said. "Put that with toughness – just an innate toughness – and you'll see a guy that progresses and progresses.
Brian Flores loves his four-down players, guys that are willing to contribute on special teams; something Igbinoghene takes a lot of pride in as a player. He's a dynamic return man and can get down the field on coverage teams quickly. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein notes those special teams traits in his scouting report.
"Stocky but explosive receiver-turned-cornerback," Zierlein writes. "He's extremely physical from snap to whistle with the strength to alter route timing from press. He's a good athlete with a plus-burst to close. He's naturally aggressive to ambush catch tries. He's good in run support and offers early special teams help."
Joining free agent acquisition Byron Jones, Brian Flores, Josh Boyer and Gerald Alexander add another talented defensive back in Igbinoghene, a room the rookie defensive back is already familiar with.
"I've looked up to [Jones and Xavien Howard] for a while now, just because of the way the play. Igbinoghene said. "I've been watching those guys from afar ever since I switched to cornerback."